One of the most memorable images of the Vietnam War is Nick Ut’s photo of a naked Kim Phuc running from her just-napalmed village.
I’ve seen that photo hundreds of times but I had no idea that video footage of the event also exists. In this clip shot by Alan Downes and Le Phuc Dinh, you see the napalm dropped on the village and then a bunch of people, Phuc among them, come running down the road. [Warning, this footage is graphic…severe burns and burnt skin hanging off of young children.]
Wow. Ut won the Pulitzer for the photo but Phuc took much longer to make her peace with the image.
The photo was famous, but Phuc largely remained unknown except to those living in her tiny village near the Cambodian border. Ut and a few other journalists sometimes visited her, but that stopped after northern communist forces seized control of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, ending the war.
Life under the new regime became tough. Medical treatment and painkillers were expensive and hard to find for the teenager, who still suffered extreme headaches and pain.
She worked hard and was accepted into medical school to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. But all that ended once the new communist leaders realized the propaganda value of the “napalm girl” in the photo.
She was forced to quit college and return to her home province, where she was trotted out to meet foreign journalists. The visits were monitored and controlled, her words scripted. She smiled and played her role, but the rage inside began to build and consume her.
“I wanted to escape that picture,” she said. “I got burned by napalm, and I became a victim of war … but growing up then, I became another kind of victim.”
Phuc now lives in Ontario with her husband and has two children.